I saw a bumper sticker with just this one word on it the other day, and oh, how I wish we could just erase racism. And PTSD, too. And guns. Yesterday I had an interesting interaction with one of the men who works at a local car wash place. But before I tell you about that let me tell you how my soon-to-be-six-year-old grandson delineates race in conversation. I’m not sure where he learned this – maybe in kindergarten when they did a unit on Dr. Martin Luther King; I should ask my daughter – but his descriptions are not of say a white man or a black man. He would instead say “the man in the light skin” or “the man in the dark skin.” I love that, and here’s what happened at the car wash yesterday:
I pulled in and was greeted by a man in dark skin. We exchanged a few words, I got out of the car, he got in, and just as he was beginning to pull away I realized I’d left my IPAD under the driver’s seat, and I needed it. So I motioned for him to stop and asked him to please get out for a minute so that I could bend over and pull out something I’d forgotten. He did get out, I reached down, and just before I grabbed hold of my IPAD he asked, “What are you getting, your gun?” I was taken aback and asked why he said that. He got very uncomfortable-looking and apologized. “There’s no need for you to apologize; you didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “In fact, your reaction is really interesting to me, because you’re a black man and the TV is full of talk of black men getting shot and killed for no good reason. I think if I were a man in black skin I’d be reactive in that way, too.” His face softened as he approached the car again and one of his cohorts, a teenager in dark skin, walked over to join our conversation. They proceeded to tell me how it really is true, that many of their customers have guns in their cars – people you’d never suspect; even old ladies. I say that’s pretty darn scary.
As it turned out I didn’t need my IPAD because the TV was on full volume in the waiting area, and the station it was on was CNN. They were showing clips of the video from North Charleston, NC, the policeman shooting the man in dark skin eight times, killing him. Horrifying. Blatant murder. Seems to be no doubt about that. Yet still, part of me wonders, was the policeman in the throws of PTSD? His reactivity looks so automaton, so totally out of control. Sometimes it seems to me that we’ve all got PTSD – veterans of war, abuse survivors, survivors of natural disasters, survivors of terrorism, newsmen and women, journalists, and those of us who watch clippings of these calamities on television.
As I write, I’m reminded of one of a very practical, well-written book: Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day: How We Are Harmed, How We Can Heal by Kaethe Weingarten, Ph.D. I think I’ll browse through it now, and pick out a couple of lines to take with me today.